Every year, a dominant senior bowl helps move a prospect into the first round or into the top 10. A poor senior bowl can drop you several rounds. The money made or lost here can go up into the millions, and often does. That's why the Senior Bowl is so important. People pay attention.
Last year, Eric Fisher was slated to go top 20 or so. That is, until he blew away the offseason process (which started with the Senior Bowl). That led him towards going as the first overall pick. Our very own Justin Pugh was a solid late- second round pick, but shot himself all the way into the first with a great Senior Bowl week. Ezekiel Ansah destroyed the one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl to go top 5.
A few years ago, Cameron Jordan propelled himself into the first round with a nasty bowl week. Brandon Graham crushed the Senior Bowl to land in the first round. You get my point.
Usually, most will say practices are more important than the actual game, but the game itself does hold some weight. Let's go over those that helped or hurt themselves the most.
The Big Winner
Dee Ford, DE Auburn - This was a gimme. Ford was a constant force throughout the entire game. He used a tremendous first step (which had been there all week). He demonstrated wicked strength, dip/bend skills, and the best explosion of any player in the Senior Bowl. His ascent started late in the year, culminating in his performance in the BCS title game. He continued that hot streak into the Senior Bowl, and the former mid- second round pick just became a possible late 1st rounder. That's big time.
Aaron Donald, DT Pittsburgh - As you are quite aware, Donald answered questions all year about his ability to hold up at a smallish 6-foot-0, 288 pounds. That length really held off anybody from picking him as a first round player. No more. He's now being talked up as the next Geno Atkins and with good reason. His performance this week has caused people to watch more of him (including...no, especially, yours truly) and really evaluate him. What we're now seeing with him is what he's done all along....dominate. He's spanked everybody he's come across with his explosion and leverage. There's no change in this game, as he applied several pressures and stayed in the opponent backfield with regularity. He's established himself as a 1st round caliber player in my eyes, and could go as high as the Dallas Cowboys at 16.
Zack Martin, OT Notre Dame - You'll hear lots of Justin Pugh comparisons. Watching him, and you'll be reminded of our very own 2013 first rounder, except just a tad bit bigger. The only difference is that Pugh developed a mean streak as the season progressed while Martin comes pre-packaged. I'm telling you, Giants fans, don't be surprised if Martin is the selection at 12. You know how we've always wanted a clone for Justin Pugh? We'll get one in exchange for our first round pick.
He's an exceptional fit for the same reasons that Pugh is:
1) He's very good.
2) He can play anywhere on the line (yes, he could likely play center).
3) He's intelligent and his athleticism is perfect for the hybrid ZBS type system we've been angling towards.
In any case, he's almost guaranteed a spot in the first round. I'd say that our pick would be his ceiling, but crazier things have happened.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB Nebraska - Jean-Baptiste likely owes his signing bonus to Richard Sherman, as his emergence as created a fever pitch for lengthy, big corners that can man up and physically bully the opponent. Jean-Baptiste has emerged as one such player. He didn't particularly show out in a huge fashion during practices, but there's ONE play he made that I thought really elevated his stock.
In what I believe was the second or third quarter, he was playing zone. That in itself is a bit of a challenge, as most players his height are man covers and that's what he played in college. He was up against Jordan Matthews, I believe (though not sure), and Derek Carr heaved a fastball in his direction on a short slant. Baptiste recognized the play and made such an amazing jump on the ball that he actually reached past it on an attempted INT (which he dropped). That sort of zone read play is what will make him so coveted when the draft comes around.
Pierre Desir from Lindenwood and Keith McGill of Utah State also fit into this category as well, and both had some hiccups during the game, but stood out during practices and could be mid to late round picks.
LBs Christian Kirksey (Iowa), Telvin Smith (FSU), and Chris Borland (Wisconsin) - It might be cheating to put these three guys together, but the reasoning is this: they all had some physical deficits with something to prove. Telvin Smith was only 218 pounds and some wondered if he's a safety at the next level. Borland is only 5-foot-11. Kirksey was not known for his athletic prowess.
They all proved themselves right. Smith was the most impressive of the three, as he showed great instincts, tremendous range, and explosion towards the ball. He looked like a three-down linebacker capable of stacking and shedding blocks to make impact plays. Borland didn't get much action when it came to pass coverage, but he again showed what made him such a strong player for Wisconsin, the instincts and read/react skills. His thick lower body was able to drive through the mess and he made several impact stops. Meanwhil,e Kirksey showed off the range that he'll need to be a successful 'backer at the next level. He made several stops outside the hashes and showed the fundamentals that will get him picked over similar guys like Denicos Allen and Devon Kennard.
Derek Carr, QB Fresno State - Many did not know if Carr would be a first-round pick. The talk was that his mediocre game against the USC Trojans would hold him out off that conversation. His Senior Bowl week put him right back into the top 10 talk. He looked to be on another level entirely, and punished defenses with his accurate mid-range throws and threw a gorgeous deep ball 60 yards deep that was misplayed by WR Kevin Norwood.
More winners: Caraun Reid, DT Princeton and James White, RB Wisconsin
The Big Loser
Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson - What a fall. A pre-season favorite to go top 10 in the entire draft, Boyd looked like an undrafted free agent this week. He likely falls heavily in the draft, with one scout "scoffing" at the notion that he go in the first two days, as per CBS Sports' Dane Brugler. He did not have ideal height, falling at a shade below 6-foot-1 and didn't compensate with a high release. He was inaccurate and looked flustered when under pressure. He likely is a 5th round pick at this point.
Cyril Richardson, OG Baylor - At the beginning of the season, Richardson was my pick for the best guard coming out for the draft. As a matter of fact, this opinion would have been justified if an NFL scout picked any three games from the first half of the college season. But then, it began to fade. Richardson was not a big, monstrous, mountain-mover anymore. He was just fat, and looked the part during Senior Bowl weigh-ins. He was crushed play after play by the relentless Aaron Donald and during the game itself, he showed the inability to move laterally and presented very poor footwork. That led to him getting beaten by guys like Will Sutton. He's got a long way to go to rehabilitate his image as a one-dimensional run blocker, but a good performance and showing up in shape to the combine would be a start.
Ra'shede Hageman, DT Minnesota - Before anybody tells me they disagree because he had a decent week of practice, just hold on a second and hear me out. This week very clearly illustrated the biggest issue that I see with Hageman, his inconsistency. There are days where he looks like Ndamukong Suh, just an explosive, disruptive force that hammers people out of the way at the snap. Then there are days where he wears Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. I didn't see anything special from Hageman during the game, and chalked it up to a "bad Hageman day." He has too many of those. He's still likely a first round pick, but the consistency needs to be better.
Seantrel Henderson, OT Miami - Oh Seantrel. How you teased us. He looked the part, a monstrous 6-8, 330-pound behemoth with 34-inch arms and no sign of flab. Then he actually started playing. He was beaten with regularity because he just looked...well...clumsy. He never moved his feet and was prone to over-extending. He had absolutely no balance whatsoever. He likely will destroy the combine, but his play on the field was a travesty. He has probably ensured himself of a late-round pick, but has the athleticism and upside to perhaps make it a successful risk.
More losers: Stephen Morris, QB Miami and Aaron Colvin, CB Oklahoma (due to ACL tear, poor guy)